Every Monday and Thursday, Plainsman sports staffers Zach Tantillo and Nathan King will analyze an Auburn football player who has a chance to make a sizable impact on the team next season.
Today’s Fortune Teller focuses on Darius Slayton, Auburn’s most dominant deep threat who is looking to display abilities beyond the deep ball.
Auburn’s passing game had a resurgence last year after a season of an almost absent passing attack in 2016.
The rejuvenated portion of the offense has a lot of contributing factors, from new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey -- who likes to get the ball downfield -- to quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who would end up as the second 3,000-yard passer in school history.
Those two get most of the praise, but an underrated asset to the passing attack is wide receiver Darius Slayton.
At the beginning of 2017, Slayton struggled with injuries, forcing him to go three straight games without a catch. Slayton then burst onto the scene, catching five touchdowns in a seven-game stretch after returning from injury and averaging 22.2 yards per catch last season.
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It was apparent that Slayton was Stidham’s favorite deep-threat target after he received nearly 20 percent of total targets -- 74 in total. Though the numbers for Slayton are deceiving since he was primarily a deep threat, he posted the worst catch rate on the team for players receiving more than 10 targets.
That lack of efficiency is why Slayton wants to expand his areas of expertise.
"I'm just trying to work on some specific things, route running,” Slayton said. “Last year, I didn't catch as many intermediate balls. Just trying to catch a lot more of those and being more consistent with those. Trying to fine-tune some things."
Slayton’s already cemented his reputation as Auburn’s deep threat, but his willingness to work at other facets of his game is what will set him apart from the pack next season.
His blocking is already one of the best on the team as he uses his big body -- 6-foot-2, 200 pounds -- and quick release off of the line to successfully block corners of all sizes.
He’s one of the fastest players on the team just behind Javaris Davis, according to NFL.com writer Chase Goodbread.
”The undisputed deep threat in the Tigers' passing attack has been clocked at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and as a high school track star, he clocked a 10.53-second 100-meter time despite a groin pull," wrote Goodbread. "He stretched the field for 22.2 yards per catch last season, which ranked fifth in the nation. Auburn will need him to be a more complete receiver this fall, but when it's time to take the top off the defense, he'll again be QB Jarrett Stidham’s main target.”
Expect Slayton to be more involved in the short to intermediate passing game as the offense will look to get him the ball and let him make more explosive plays.
Slayton’s involvement in other areas of the passing game will make it much more difficult to defend him as there will be an element of unknown instead of the typical vertical routes Slayton is used to running.
That wrinkle, added on to his offseason work with route running and his overwhelming speed, will match nicely, allowing him to still get his fill of explosive plays, especially when the Tigers are in desperate need of one.
Catch up on previous installments of the Fortune Teller series:
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